After his wounding at the Custom House Tom spent 3 months in Geraldine O’Donnel’s Nursing Home & then further time in a convalescent home. He returned to active duty with the IRA in early 1922. He had a limp and needed the aid of a walking stick as shown in Tom Ennis – Part 2 (and below).
As is well-known, he took the pro-Treaty side at the outset and soon officially became a Commandant in the National Army and O/C of Wellington (later Griffith) Barracks after the British handover on 12 April. He had acted quickly to make sure anti-Treaty forces didn’t get that place first. His unit was named the 2nd Eastern Division.
Soon after Ennis was made Commandant General in charge of Beggar’s Bush. Interestingly a British intelligence report at the time contains this rather admiring piece on him by his WoI opponents:
“The Dublin City Brigade and the South Dublin Brigade of the I.R.A. have been combined into one Division, under the command of Commdt. General T. Ennis. He was well-known throughout the War, and took a very active part all through the fighting in Dublin City. The raid on the Custom House was carried out under Commdt. Ennis, who is Officer Commanding at Beggars Bush Barracks.” (BA – Dublin District Weekly Intelligence Summary No. 154 for w/e 1/4/1922).
As the IRA Treaty split moved towards armed conflict in June, Ennis – now a Major General – signed a mobilisation order for IRA troops loyal to the Provisional Government (& Treaty). Their ultimatum to the Four Courts garrison on the night of 27/28 June was also signed by Ennis. His troops took on the clearance of the various anti-Treaty positions in Dublin which was completed by 5 July.
Two other edicts in the name of Tom Ennis at that time attracted the fury of no less than Michael Collins himself. In his excellent biography of Emmet Dalton, Sean Boyne says Collins saw Tom’s insertion in Dublin newspapers military orders prohibiting service of alcohol to National Army troops in uniform and limiting City pub opening hours. The Big Fella went mad about personal initiative by a soldier, even a General. He lectured Ennis’s boss Dalton that such actions must have government sanction. Obviously, when shooting people & shelling buildings in the glare of media attention, initiative was encouraged; but when creating publicity about Army discipline & civil order it was not! Ennis’ reaction is sadly not recorded……..
Soon Tom was off to the country under his boss and friend Gen Emmet Dalton assaulting towns in Co Wicklow held by local anti-Treaty forces & some who had retreated from Dublin. In late July both men had a narrow escape near Baltinglass in a touring car driven by Pat McCrea. A sniper’s bullet shattered the steering wheel, wounding McCrea in the wrist and shrapnel hit Dalton in the face.
In early August Ennis accompanied Dalton & Liam Tobin as a commander of the Free State’s seaborne invasion of the anti-Treaty “Munster Republic”. In the landing at Passage West, Ennis led the first soldiers ashore.
He was consistently to the fore as the National Army columns fought their way into Cork City. A great description – “Tom Ennis stood like a ship’s captain on his bridge in the turret of his armoured car” as crowds lined the streets and cheered (John Borgonovo, ‘The Battle for Cork’). As usual, Pat McCrea was his loyal driver in ‘The Manager’, the Rolls Royce armoured car named for Ennis himself.
Collins was pleased with progress in Co Cork and met with Dalton & Ennis the day before his ill-fated last trip which ended at Béal na Bláth. Tom Ennis had the sad task of accompanying his leader’s body on the ship to Dublin and marched at the head of the Dublin Guard at the massive funeral.
Back in the front line in Cork two weeks later, Ennis took charge of a National Army party which landed from the Free State gunboat Helga at Courtmacsharry, near Clonakility.
Tom was in command of the western part of Co Cork and had his HQ at Bandon. While scouting near Drimoleague with two junior officers on 21 November, Ennis’s vehicle was ambushed. Using clever diversionary tactics they managed to out-manoeuvre their attackers who withdrew after a firefight. Ennis’s party continued on their patrol & all 3 appeared safe and sound in the Army census taken the next day.
Other incidents during Tom’s time in Cork included the capture, without any shooting, of leading anti-Treaty man Tom Hales by his troops and a safe passage to Cork Jail where Hales survived the war. Tom Ennis was not a man for extra-judicial killings and is said to have vigorously refused orders to execute prisoners. He, with Dalton & Charles Russell, also made unsuccessful peace feelers to senior republicans to try to get the conflict halted. Ennis would have seen that as trying to reach common ground with fellow republicans. But hardliners in government took a very dim view of such “fraternisation with the enemy”.
Tom also attended a happier event in Cork City – the marriage of his friend Emmet Dalton to Dubliner Alice Shannon on 9 October – and appeared in one newspaper photo of the wedding group.
Ennis returned permanently to Dublin and on 24 January 1923 was made General Staff Officer grade 1 – O/C Inspections at GHQ. But on the streets, times were still dangerous. On St Patrick’s night, he and a CID detective were attacked by two unknown gunmen near Parnell Square. Tom was shot again in his injured leg while his companion was more seriously wounded.
While on sick leave, Ennis was temporarily replaced in his Inspectorate post by Col. Jephson O’Connell. This would have repercussions a year later…..(see Army Mutiny below).
Tom was back on duty when the anti-Treaty side ordered dump-arms and a cessation of hostilities on 24 May 1923, almost exactly 2 years after the Custom House operation. The Civil War had ended. But Maj. Gen. Ennis’s Inspectorate job was not defined and he had no executive power which must have been very frustrating for a man of action like him.
In September, a strangely prescient report of his resignation from the Army and appointment as Chief Ranger of the Phoenix Park appeared in the press. Tom immediately wrote denying the story and insisting on a retraction which was wisely made! It’s doubtful the press wanted a row with the likes of Tom Ennis…..
An Army medical report for Tom dated February 1924 was kindly provided to this writer by his daughter. It records old gunshot wounds to his right thigh, imperfect movement of that hip and a healing fracture of the same femur. He was described as aged 27, 5 ft 8 tall, weighing 9 stone 10 lbs – with fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He had a few false teeth but had 20/20 vision and perfect hearing. No Hollywood-style Rambo, but a real tough man and a great soldier & fighter!
By then the country was mostly peaceful but had a huge Army – over 55,000 officers and men. The Free State government decided to drastically cut numbers and pay levels. Thousands were de-mobbed into a ruined economy with few jobs available; hundreds of officers were down-graded in rank and pay. This caused great dissatisfaction among pre-Truce IRA officers. An added grievance was their belief newer recruits and ex-British officers were being retained or promoted over them. There were also IRB undertones….
Back in early 1923 those men had formed the IRAO (the Irish Republican Army Organisation). According to author Padraig Yeates (‘A City in Civil War’), Tom Ennis had attended their inaugural meeting in January that year. The IRAO’s leaders were Liam Tobin & Charlie Dalton and the members were all close associates or loyal followers of the late Michael Collins. They felt the Free State rulers had dumped the ultimate aim of an all-Ireland Republic. At political level they were backed by Joe McGrath, former Director of Intelligence & Head of Oriel House CID, then Minister for Industry & Commerce (Later of Irish Sweepstakes fame). We draw your attention to all this because it entangled many Custom House Men……
Minister for Home Affairs Kevin O’Higgins was hostile to the Army, believing they were wild gunmen out of control and a major threat to the Free State’s established order. Fuelled by his dislike of Richard Mulcahy (formerly Army head and then Minister for Defence) and by alarmist reports of loose discipline from the aforementioned Col. Jephson O’Connell, O’Higgins took a very hard line.
So, when the IRAO put a written ultimatum to the government, there was no room for compromise. Things came to a head with the arrest by GHQ troops of over 70 armed IRAO officers at a meeting in Parnell Square on 17 March 1924. The arrests were carried out by order of Mulcahy alone, without consulting the government. These events became known as the Army Crisis or Army Mutiny.
In the fall-out McGrath & Mulcahy resigned, GHQ Council was sacked and IRAO members were forced to quit the Army (Their “resignations” were backdated to 7 March 1924 to avoid courts-martial).
Tom Ennis and many of the Custom House Men were gone from the very Army they set up. Sacked by the very politicians they’d kept in power – and kept alive in extremely dangerous times! You could say Ennis had taken the bullets for the Free State, then it gave him the bullet….. But at least he & the rest would get Army pensions.
Back in civilian life, Tom actually did become Chief Ranger of the Phoenix Park for the Board of Works (now OPW). It was a well-paid position, not exactly stressful work. And he had Army and Wound Pensions (He made sure many old comrades got the same).
He got a very nice official residence near Ashtown and was involved in other sidelines like a private detective agency with Emmet Dalton. He also dabbled in the antiques business.
The family grew to 4 daughters and a son. Tom was able to indulge them with some luxuries – like one of the first caravans in Ireland (allegedly!) where they spent summer holidays in places like Ballybunion.
He and his wife Kathleen became excellent golfers and as we’ve previously told, he was a founder member of Elm Park Golf Club. Tom socialised there and in the Officers’ Mess at McKee Barracks near the Park. Old comrade Vinnie Byrne was a regular visitor to the Ennis home. Things were looking good for Tom.
But in 1942, tragedy struck. The second Ennis girl 19 year-old Úna was shot dead by her older boyfriend in a murder-suicide. Tom & Kathleen had not approved of the relationship, which could have only added extra grief.
Three years later Tom went into a nursing home in Finglas for a bit of a rest from his hectic lifestyle and busy life. He died suddenly there on 10 March 1945. It was completely unexpected and a huge shock to his family.
Maj. Gen. Ennis was buried in St Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton with full military honours. His old comrade Capt. Pat McCrea led the guard of honour & firing party. Among the large attendance were notables from both sides of the Civil War – from Free Staters W. T. Cosgrave, Richard Mulcahy, Joe McGrath & Emmet Dalton’s son (representing his dad); to anti-Treaty men Oscar Traynor & Dan Breen.
Appropriately his grave has a panoramic view of his adopted city – the sites of his battles from 1916-1923; and the places he lived & worked. On a fair day, you can imagine seeing the graves of many of his comrades. From 1916, where his O/C Capt Tom Weafer was burned to ashes in O’Connell Street. Then, in near & far cemeteries, the 1921 Custom House fallen – Dan Head, the O’Reilly brothers, Sean Doyle & Ned Dorins. And all the way down to Wicklow where his best man Tom Kehoe lies at Knockananna since his death in the Civil War.
Tom’s widow Kathleen was told to quickly vacate their official house in the Park by the bureaucrats under Dev’s administration. Not too long after, she emigrated to Canada with her surviving children. Mrs Kathleen Ennis passed away in Toronto in 1994.
Her daughter Nuala Ennis MacDonald still lives there and last May attended the Custom House Commemoration with many of her relatives from Ireland & Britain. This writer asked that lady – why did they go to Canada? Nuala’s answer was priceless. Sure, before he joined the Volunteers hadn’t her dad, Tom Ennis, been offered a job as a cowboy there!
Nowadays the man is largely overlooked, if not almost forgotten. Ennis was a modest, unassuming guy who left no memoirs and died before the BMH took Witness Statements. His Army record or Pension Application barely hint of his military career.
Tom’s daughter Nuala says he was privately annoyed at times that some others who weren’t as quiet claimed credit for several of his exploits or put their own slants on things. Nuala recalls her sister typing & re-typing 3 pages written by her father giving his version of some events. Unfortunately now lost to history. Wouldn’t we love to have read that!
Ennis’ name, when recalled, is probably associated more with the Civil War than 1916 and the War of Independence. That totally ignores his long record of patriotism and sacrifices for our country and his key role in helping the Free State survive its bloody birth.
A shame he was not alive to see the Republic of Ireland name officially adopted in 1949. What would he have made of that? Would he even have noticed…. Too many of his contemporaries & comrades had given their lives to achieve a status made “official” by the stroke of a pen. Others never accepted it, many died for it. And, as we know, some do not recognise it, even to this day. Many may see Ennis as a Stater. Yet – look at his record. In this writer’s view he was a real & true republican who had to fight for the Free State. For the freedom to achieve freedom…..
Last, and not least. Tom’s sporting successes are also unknown to most. But his name & winning records are proudly remembered in his old GAA & golf clubs – O’Tooles & Elm Park – still doing well today. Not a bad legacy?
Major General Thomas James Ennis, 1892-1945. Distinguished Irish Soldier – for Ireland, rather than some foreign land. RIP.
(The writer is delighted to thank Nuala Ennis MacDonald & the extended Ennis family for photos & memories included above).